It is with great regret that the School of Anthropology and Conservation waves goodbye to one of its most academically eclectic and vibrant personalities, Dr Oskar Burger. He has decided to leave the academy altogether, and embark upon a new career path as an environmental consultant for a company in California, returning to his native soil.
An anthropological frontiersman of sorts, his career began studying bison bonebeds on the high plains of the western United States: he has since investigated butchery decisions of prehistoric foragers and developed methodological tools for archaeological survey. Most recently, and what he was known for intellectually in his capacity within the school, he has been interested in human life history change as an ‘evolutionary demographer’, with a particular focus on human evolutionary change of the last two hundred (or so) years, a time period not usually studied from a disciplinary perspective due to its relatively short span. In November of last year, Oskar successfully organised the Born This Way conference, bringing together many speakers from differing academic fields to explore the biological and social means that factor into human evolutionary change: its purpose was to challenge assumptions about how identity is formed (are we born a certain way?), and it achieved this through lively debate and engaging presentation. Oskar’s valued contributions to the school also include his role as Senior Tutor, which played to his strengths of being an empathetic listener and cool-headed mentor.
Something that few of us knew, until recently, was that Oskar’s name means “divine spear” in Norse. As Oskar proudly boasted to me, “Hey man, so apparently my name means ‘divine spear’. Beat that, huh?” Divine Spear Burger: sounds like something you’d get overcharged for in a gourmet patty joint. He was wise to stick with Oskar. Far from being a grouch though, Oskar brought a winning charisma to the students he taught and in his approach as a colleague.
A tale that, for me, sums Oskar up best occurred just a few weeks ago, when he announced his impending departure in a local watering hole. My new-to-the area housemate came and joined us for a drink and Dr Burger was already slightly merry. Kaz is from Brighton and has quite a strong Southern accent. Upon being introduced to her, Oskar immediately attempted an imitation of her accent, in that affected way our Atlantic cousins do in order to try and ‘fit in’ with the locals. Kaz instantly took umbrage: “I don’t talk like that.” Oskar parroted the phrase back, adopting an exaggeratedly Mockney accent underpinned by his Wyoming drawl, sort of like an inebriate Dick van Dyke. Kaz shook her head wearily. But that did not deter the Divine Spear, asking her to repeat the phrase. Again and again, persisting with that laissez-faire bonhomie that he was well known for. “Hey man, you can have a go at my accent. I just want to nail a solid British accent before I leave. Come on, just once more: *I don’t talk like that.*” After five minutes of Oskar’s vain supplications and Kaz’s annoyance physically misting the table, eventually she told him, in no uncertain terms, to ‘eff off.’ The following Monday, Oskar came to me and apologised that he may have been a little harsh on Kaz, having met her for the first time and all. But, in conclusion, “You know James, that’s how I roll,” before sighing, “I’m never gonna get this British accent down.” And walked away with his signature ‘peace out’ hand gesture.
That is Oskar. Unabashed in his inquiry, undeterred by inhibition. A man who often appeared so relaxed he redefined the x axis, this attitude only masked a keen intellect with an exceptional catholicism of taste. We wish Oskar all the best in his future endeavours and hope that he stays in touch.
Peace out, Divine Spear. And work on that accent…
Many thanks to James Kloda for this piece.